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a variety of yarns
Yarn Swapping
Part 1: Common Yarn Weights and Gauges

Yarns generally fall into seven categories of weight and gauge. Many patterns and online yarn shops list yarns using these naming conventions, so it's important to know the general category of yarn your pattern calls for.

The following are based on the Craft Yarn Council's Yarn Standards chart. Keep in mind that these categories and their numbers can differ from older conventions, and they still leave a bit of wiggle room in gauge.

Terms Defined

CYCA number Weight Gauge
0 Lace/Fingering 33-40 sts = 4" (10cm)
1 Sock/Fingering/Baby 27-32 sts = 4" (10cm)
2 Sport/Baby 23-26 sts = 4" (10cm)
3 DK/Light Worsted 21-24 sts = 4" (10cm)
4 Worsted/Afghan/Aran 16-20 sts = 4" (10cm)
5 Chunky/Craft/Rug 12-15 sts = 4" (10cm)
6 Bulky/Roving 6-11 sts = 4" (10cm)


Gauge or Needle Size?
The gauge is your most important number for a pattern. Needle sizes are given as guidelines only. The idea is that you'll use whatever needle size it takes to achieve the desired gauge.

Gauge Gotchas
Although most patterns specify gauge in terms of stockinette stitch, a few note the gauge in terms of a specific stitch pattern.

If this is the case with your pattern, you'll need to look up the manufacturer's given gauge for the yarn in question. You can do this either online (Ravelry has a vast store of user-generated yarn information, and the yarn data on Yarndex sometimes includes scans of current and older color cards).

If you're using an older pattern that calls for long-gone yarns, try checking Laurie Kynaston's extensive online listing of older, discontinued yarns sorted by weight and, in several cases, by manufacturer. She includes fiber content, skein weight, and yardage.

In This Article

Failing this, you can always swatch the yarn and let it show you its ideal gauge. When the label isn't handy, simply double the yarn and run it through the holes in your needle sizer until you find a hole in which the yarn slides not too tightly and not too loosely. That's your starting needle size.

Sizing Conventions
Patterns also differ in the size of their gauge swatches. You'll normally find gauge given in terms of stitches per 4 inches or 10cm, but sometimes you'll see it in terms of stitches per inch or per 2 inches. Not all labels follow the same standard, so double-check this number if anything seems off.

Let It Be
Most important, try to respect a yarn's given gauge. Forcing a yarn into a tighter or looser gauge simply because you like the yarn isn't always a wise choice.

Imagine a tea bag designed to make the perfect 8-ounce cup of tea. Use it in only 4 ounces of water, or drown it in 16 ounces, and it won't taste the same. In the case of knitting, you can easily end up with fabric that's awkwardly loose or, conversely, so tight that it stands up by itself.

A general rule of thumb is to stay within a half-stitch-per-inch range of the yarn originally specified in the pattern.

Time to Shop!
Once you've determined the yarn weight and gauge your pattern needs, you can begin investigating your yarn options. If you don't have a yarn store near you, go online. Most online yarn stores let you browse yarns by gauge, fiber, and manufacturer.

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